musical or musical comedy

Definition

Theater

  • A stage entertainment or film that tells a story using a mixtureof dialogue, songs, and dance routines. Probably the single most impressivecontribution made by Broadway to the modern theater, themusical developed from many sources, including vaudeville, revue,melodrama, and operetta.

    The first work to combine these influences to create a recognizablynew genre was William Wheatley's spectacular ballet-melodrama TheBlack Crook, first produced in New York in 1866. George Edwardes'sIn Town, produced at his old Gaiety Theatre, London, in 1892,is usually considered the first British musical. Edwardes developeda highly successful formula that involved the use of a sketchy plotas a framework for memorable songs and expensive production numbersfeaturing attractive chorus girls (see Gaiety Girl).

    In the early 20th century US musicals remained heavily indebtedto the tradition of European operetta. After World War I, however,a more energetic and sophisticated, but still essentially lightweight,type of show was pioneered by such writers as Irving Berlin,Cole Porter, the Gershwin brothers, and Rodgersand Hart. In 1928 Jerome Kern's Show Boat gave a new prominenceto plot and demonstrated that the musical could encompass more seriousthemes.

    These developments were taken further in Rodgers and Hammerstein'slandmark production Oklahoma! (1943). The same combinationof an exciting plot, memorable songs, vigorous professional dancing,and extravagant costumes and sets characterized their subsequent hitsCarousel (1945), and South Pacific (1949). The traditionthey had established was continued by Lerner and Loewe in internationalsuccesses such as My Fair Lady (1956) and Camelot(1960). Other hits of the 1950s and 1960s included West Side Story(1957), Hello Dolly! (1963), Fiddler on the Roof(1964) and cabaret (1966).

    In the late 1960s and 1970s the tradition of the classic Broadwaymusical appeared to decline. The only important US writer to continuein the genre was Stephen Sondheim, whose sophisticated andidiosyncratic works won critical praise but lacked popular appeal.The main development of this period was the advent of the rock musical,as represented by Hair (1967) and Andrew Lloyd Webberand Tim Rice's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat(1968), and Jesus Christ Superstar. In the 1970s and late1980s Lloyd Webber led a revival of the large-scale spectacular musicalwith a series of shows that proved immensely successful on both sidesof the Atlantic: these included Evita (1978), Cats(1981), Phantom of the Opera (1986), and Sunset Boulevard(1992). The blockbuster musicals of this era also include the CameronMackintosh productions Les Misérables (1985) and MissSaigon (1987), both by the French team of Alain Boublil abd Claude-MichelSchönberg. A more recent trend has been the creation of a stageshow from an already familiar corpus of hit songs, as with thehugely successful Abba musical Mamma Mia! (2001), or from awell-loved film, as with Mel Brooks's The Producers (2004) or BillyElliot (2005).

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